Every day thousands of events and issues struggle for our attention. We try to catch up with ourselves, family, home, work, income, promotion, global events, all in the hours we spend awake. In the end, we find ourselves overloaded with emotions and information.
Some people find it easy to live with these, while others struggle to cope. Trying to deal with a high volume of emotions and information daily is actually not so easy for anyone, people who find it easy are those who manage them well. If not managed properly, it often results in stress, anxiety, and lack of focus. And one of the practices that can help you avoid this is mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that originated from religious traditions. It is used in building focus and awareness. Today, it has become a subject of scientific study, especially in the growing field of Positive Psychology.
While there are various definitions of mindfulness, they all point to the same practice, but may vary slightly in degree of simplicity or depth of description.
A Harvard Medical School Report glossary defines it as the ‘awareness and acceptance of your present experience’. Ciara Conlon, a productivity coach and speaker, describes it in a blog post as, ‘The act of focused awareness on the flow of the present moment.’
Both definitions are correct, yes. But while Ciara’s definition focuses on what she calls the ‘flow of the present moment’, the Harvard Medical School Report’s definition focuses on ‘your present experience’. The difference in both definitions is mostly a matter of depth of description and degree of simplicity, and both definitions are useful to the extent of their depth or simplicity.
Now, let us talk about how mindfulness can help you grow your life and business.
Growing your life with mindfulness
There are different ways that mindfulness can impact your life positively and help you grow. But I will like to discuss only those I have experienced personally.
1. Become stress and anxiety-proof
The overload of emotions and information one has to deal with daily can be drowning. Of course, for younger people, the intensity may not be as much as it is for older people. But in some special cases, younger people may feel a greater degree of overload. In my case, I experienced this to a great intensity as a young person due to dysfunctional parenting.
By draining out the emotional and information overload, mindfulness can help you avoid the building up of any form of stress or anxiety, whether extreme fear or depression. Inherently, this can help you become healthier and more emotionally balanced.
My unconscious practice of mindfulness saved me from negative emotions and thoughts like depression, low self-esteem and suicide, when the harsh realities of dysfunctional parenting hit me.
2. Improve mental performance
Recent scientific studies have found that becoming more mindful can alter people’s brains, and help them improve their mental state or even treat mental illness.
One mindfulness exercise I discovered myself very long ago and practice to date is leaving my mind as empty and free as possible at every moment, except when I have to think about something that has to be done at that instance. Over time, I noticed that this has helped me get rid of rumination, and improve the capacity of my brain to perform at optimal capacity and speed.
Better mental performance can also improve the quality of how you perceive the ‘flow of the present moment’. This because, as you become more mindful, you gain more focus and clarity, and you start to see the flow of the present moment different from the way you used to see it.
3. Make better decisions
Being more mindful keeps you better aware of and focused on an experience or idea at the present moment. In this state, you are better positioned to see, understand, and assess all considerations before you, and choose the one that is most suitable with respect to your present experience.
Rather than clinging painfully to the past or worrying bitterly about the future, mindfulness teaches you to let them be for now and focus on making the most of the present moment, focus on seeing things through the lens of the present moment. It frees you from the mistake of making decisions biased by what you have experienced in the past or what you think of the future. It is the way it works for me, it should work almost similarly for you too.
Growing your business with mindfulness
The usefulness of mindfulness to business growth which I highlight here are those closest to the experiences I have had as well.
1. Avoid occupational stress
If brought down to business, mindfulness helps you deal with the clutter of emotional and information burdens you would come across in the course of doing business.
Occupational stress could result from an increase in workload or responsibility, lack of quality team, organisational conflict, failure of business, among others.
Before situations like this result into stress, mindfulness can help you drain out any emotional or information overload that can jeopardise the quality of your response to the situation.
For example, it helps me accept business failure quickly and turn it into a valuable business lesson, rather than dwell on the loss and cringe away from the idea of continuing the business due to that.
2. Improve productivity
You already know that mindfulness can alter the performance of the brain in different ways, like improving memory and speed of assimilation or thought. For this same reason, it can help improve your productivity at work.
Shawn Achor’s research in the field of positive psychology and his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles That Fuel Success And Performance At Work are based on the concept that there is a link between happiness and productivity.
The genuine happiness induced by mindfulness will change your mindset to work and help you do more valuable work. The point at which this happiness set in for different people may differ, something called the ‘happiness set point’, and scientific studies suggest that genetics may have some influence on this index.
3. Unlock creativity and innovation
Mindfulness can help you discover your inner strengths and unlock your inner skills. It helped me discover mine. Your inner strengths and skills are the ones that make you unique and flow to you more naturally.
When using these strengths and skills, you are likely to feel more energetic and perform better than when you are using ones that come to you less naturally. You are also likely to be at your most creative and innovative when using these strengths and skills.
Techniques for mindfulness
There are several techniques for mindfulness, but they all attempt to help you achieve a state of focused and relaxed awareness by intentionally paying attention to thoughts and sensations without any judgment. And they all exist as forms of meditation.
My favorite technique is the RAIN technique. The RAIN acronym which forms the name of this technique stands for the steps involved in the technique:
R – Recognise the emotion you are feeling. Name it in your mind if you can.
A – Accept the experience you are having. Even though you do not like it, the reality is that the experience is present at the moment.
I – Investigate. Be curious about the experience. Where do you feel the experience? What thoughts are going through your mind?
N – Non-identification. The act of separating yourself from the experience. See the experience as a passing one, rather than who you are. Just as images are reflected in the mirror, but are not the mirror.
One of my oldest techniques, what researchers at the University of California San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center and Global Brain Health Institute have called ‘awe walking’ in a recent study they published in Emotion journal. It involves taking focused walks in nature to help stimulate something called awe.
Awe – here – is a positive emotion elicited when in the presence of vast things not immediately understood.
I have practiced this longer than a decade and it is very effective.
According to the study, it reduces self-focus, promotes social connection, and fosters prosocial actions by encouraging a ‘small self’.
Mindfulness techniques may be classified by the activities, senses or stimuli they are associated with. For example, breathing, body sensations, sights and sounds, emotions and urges or cravings.
If you will wish to read further on this subject, here are some of the materials/publications I referred to in pulling together this post: